Chichester returned home at the end of their longest day of the season after a second straight loss, a 22-12 London one south defeat to Guernsey.
Now they regroup ahead of their next game on Saturday week ready to try to mount another long unbeaten run – knowing any slip-up will allow Old Elthamians to take over top spot.
On the notoriously-difficult trip to Guernsey, the Blues aimed to bounce back from the tough loss to Elthamians the week before. Big Nick Blount returned from long-term injury and Tom Polhill was back in at 12 following the serious injury to Phil Dickin. Chichester had new boy Manoa Satala and Rhys Gillings on the bench.
A large crowd was swelled by some hardy Chichester fans and the Blues faced a stiff wind and determined opposition, who tore into Chichester pushing deep into their territory with pick and drives.
Chichester repelled the initial onslaught with the Polhill brothers and Goldie putting in big hits. They got field position but lacked accuracy in their play to hand the territory back to the Greens, whose Kiwi half-backs were shrewd.
Penalties came as pressure in the loose began to tell with the Greens’ No7 causing problems. The home kicker slotted a series of penalties to push out to a 9-0 lead.
The Blues had the edge in the lineout and the advantage at the scrum, where Phil Veltom in particular had the green loosehead in trouble. It was surprising that one of the penalties was given against such a dominant scrum.
Overall the Blues defended well with man of the match Toby Golds fielding deep kicks excellently. The backs moved the ball well with Adams going on strong runs and past his opposite number.
The visitors put some phases together and the blue pack drove over out wide with Knowles slotting the difficult kick superbly from the touchline to make it 9-7 before another penalty from almost halfway pushed the lead to 12-7.
Waves of green attacks were repelled but a slice of misfortune came as a Guernsey man dropped the ball over the line and the try was given. The conversion made the interval score 19-7.
Although the elements were in their favour, Chichester never expected an easy ride after the break. Strong carries from Polhill and Veltom with excellent sniping from Wagstaff forced a penalty. The kick to the corner pushed the Blues to ten metres from the green line.
With Polhill injured, the referee called for the lineout – ‘jumper down’ was the reply. Given it was a Blues penalty and throw and early in the half a very bizarre free-kick awarded against.
Chichester didn’t understand this decision on any level. The player down was involved in the lineout – no check was made to the status and no warning given.The chance was gone.
The Guernsey loosehead was then responsible for a nasty off-the-ball incident. Chichester officials said he swung a huge haymaker to leave Veltom with a massive cut – with blood pouring from it he could play no further part.
The ref didn’t see it and Chichester don’t want to bleat, but it highlights the extent to which teams will go.
The game became disjointed with a flurry of yellows as feelings were boiling over. Wheeler was sent to the bin for getting involved in a dust-up. Skipper Scott Barlow tried to rally his troops with strong carries.
The Blues honed in on the green line and with ten minutes to go the forwards smashed over for Lawrence to claim his second try of the day. Conversion missed, the score was 19-12.
As Chichester looked to ramp it up, Guernsey were roared on by their supporters and drove the Blues deep back into their own half. The Blues desperately hung on near their own line and Toone bravely smashed into three attackers but the Greens had the attacking scrum. The try was stopped but the ref awarded Guernsey a penalty which made it 22-12.
Chichester director of rugby Paul Colley said: “We could argue all day about the decisions and the unsavoury elements – the bottom line is Guernsey are a good side with some hard streetwise players.
“We remain top but only just and we all need to pull together before we take on Haywards Heath at Oaklands Park on December 3.”
CHICHESTER: Shopland, Lawrence, Veltom, Barlow, Bount, Goldie, Polhill B, Kasujja, Wagstaff, Knowles, Adams, Polhill T, Deed, Golds, Toone. Reps: Wheeler, O’Callaghan, Gillings, Satala.